Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, host: Time now for our regular music feature. Today, reinterpreting historic jazz recordings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCKY 369")

RAZ: This is a piece from the early 1920s. It's called "Lucky 369," and it was recorded by a relatively obscure artist named Tiny Parham. Now, take a listen to this next track. It's the same song, just a modern version.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCKY 369")

RAZ: Sounds amazing, doesn't it? This is by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra out of New York City, and it's one of the many new pieces of Jazz that have crossed NPR music producer Patrick Jarenwattananon's desk. And Patrick is back with us. Patrick, it's great to have you here.

PATRICK JARENWATTANANON: A pleasure and an honor.

RAZ: So you've been noticing lately all of these jazz tributes, particularly this year. What's going on?

JARENWATTANANON: Well, you know, it's funny. I recently saw an article by The New York Times Jazz critic Ben Ratliff. He started with the lead: One way jazz can seem from the outside is as a never-ending eulogy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JARENWATTANANON: And so he went on to list, of course, like six different jazz tribute concerts that were happening in New York that week alone. I imagine there are probably more of them where that came from too.

RAZ: I want to get to the why of, you know, why this is happening a bit later. But first, I want you to talk about this music we're hearing. It's a really great track by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra of New York. It's a sound you really don't hear anymore. So obviously, this is a nod to the early days, the beginnings of jazz.

JARENWATTANANON: That's right. In fact, almost all the music on this album is by jazz composers of the '20s, '30s who were pretty obscure. I mean, I don't know if you've heard of Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra or Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. And these bands were usually somewhere between like, what became big band and I guess a small combo, you know, eight to 11 pieces or so.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: It's really great stuff. That's Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra from their new album. It's called "Hot House Stop." OK. Patrick, so Brian Carpenter obviously, you know, reaching back, trying to find a clearly obscure jazz musicians. Are a lot of artists doing this right now, they're going particularly going to lesser known musicians?

JARENWATTANANON: Sure. I mean, there's a long history of jazz. It's nearly 100 years old now. And, you know, let's face it, the overwhelming majority of those jazz musicians are pretty obscure to most general listeners.

RAZ: Right, right. And I don't recognize the next name of the artist you brought, either, so I guess we are sticking with another obscure artist for the next record.

JARENWATTANANON: Yeah we're actually moving ahead a few decades. This next album pays homage to a saxophonist named Lucky Thompson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Again, a modern recording. And I'm really excited to learn more about this because I love this, and it sounds like it was, you know, done in the '40s or the '50s. This is a brand new recording of something that clearly comes from that era.

JARENWATTANANON: Lucky Thompson grew up in the bebop era. And, you know, bebop is sort of the underpinning of what mainstream jazz is today. This album is called "Lucky Strikes Again," ha ha.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JARENWATTANANON: And it's arranged by another saxophonist named Chris Byars for his eight-piece band. So Chris Byars specializes in these kinds of tribute projects, these sort of intricately arranged '40s, '50s, '60s sort of stuff. You know, so by studying these distinct musicians, who time may have forgotten, he can both honor his predecessors and refine some of the ideas that he has as, you know, his own voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: My guest is Patrick Jarenwattananon. He is a jazz producer and blogger here at NPR Music, and we're talking about some of the new jazz tribute albums that he's been noticing recently. It's not - Patrick, it's not just obscure for obscurity's sake, right? I mean, you can't obviously always sell obscure because people just don't know who it is. So are there musicians who are reinterpreting big names?

JARENWATTANANON: Oh, of course. That actually brings us to the next album I brought along.

RAZ: All right.

JARENWATTANANON: I hope you've heard of Tito Puente.

RAZ: I have indeed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's so great. I love it. I love the percussion. I love the energy. I love the sound. It's just - to me, this is my favorite kind of jazz.

JARENWATTANANON: That was Tito Puente's vibe. This is actually a student band, if you can believe it.

RAZ: Wow.

JARENWATTANANON: That's from the Manhattan School of Music. That is led by the veteran percussionist and long-time educator, and sometimes he actually appears on NPR's airwaves. His name is Bobby Sanabria. And they put out a live recording called Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! - with three exclamation points, and you kind of need them all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So tell me more about this group. I mean, these are students playing this music. It's fantastic, absolutely fabulous. They're obviously using Tito Puente's name. They're going to hopefully sell some records by using that name, but is there something else going on here?

JARENWATTANANON: Sure. Well, jazz isn't really only about improvisation. It has to do with composition too. And you learn to play like the masters by playing the master's music and sort of absorbing it into your system.

RAZ: And to make sense of their students. Patrick, we have time for one more record. It's by a band called KLANG. Who are they covering here?

JARENWATTANANON: This is their take on the great clarinetist Benny Goodman.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKFAST FEUD")

RAZ: Clarinet, vibraphone combination, can't go wrong with that.

JARENWATTANANON: Yup. The clarinetist here is named James Falzone. He's based in Chicago, and that's where Benny Goodman is from originally. So a little bit of history: in the 1930s, Benny Goodman had this quartet with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Hampton and pianist Teddy Wilson were black and Benny Goodman and the drummer in that band, Gene Krupa, they were white. So he was maybe the most popular musician of his day, committing to having an interracial band. This album is called "Other Doors," which is I think in part a reference to that very segregation.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. You know, Patrick, I was listening to some of the other tracks in this record, and I'm not a Benny Goodman expert by any means, but I got the sense that not all of the tracks on this album were particularly faithful to Benny Goodman's original work. Like, take a listen to this one for a second.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So as I say, Patrick, I'm not a Benny Goodman expert, but was that something he did?

JARENWATTANANON: Well, the sort of electronic, celloey thing in the background, probably not.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: Right. OK.

JARENWATTANANON: But James Falzone was asked to do a Benny Goodman tribute concert at the 2009 Chicago Jazz Festival. I was there, actually, and I quite liked it. And at first, he didn't really know what to do with that stuff. But, you know, once he had studied the history and the music, he found he could sort of express himself in it.

Now, I want to quote from the liner notes here. He said: The greatest thing I can do to pay respect to a jazz musician of the past is to be a jazz musician of the present.

RAZ: It really is a beautiful record. And that's clarinetist James Falzone and his band KLANG. Their tribute to Benny Goodman is called "Other Doors." Patrick Jarenwattananon writes about jazz for NPR's A Blog Supreme. Check it out at nprmusic.org. Patrick, thanks again.

JARENWATTANANON: Come find me anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And to hear more from the artists Patrick and I talked about, check out our website, nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode each Sunday night. We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.